Lost In Translation
They say the recording makes the mix and the mix makes the master. All of this is true. However our job as mastering engineers to is ensure great translation no matter the quality of the recording or the mix. Grab a coffee and let me explain.
Good morning friends my name is Dave from DC Audio Mastering and I'm The Modern Mastering Engineer. So lets talk translation. What does that even mean? Translation when referred within audio mastering means how well a track will sound playing on different audio playback devices, as well as playback on different streaming services. For instance does the track sound balanced and clean playing back on small computer speakers, cell phone speakers, large tower speakers and so on. Does the track sound good in mono. Part of a mastering engineers job is to make the track sound great across all these playback systems and more regardless of the quality of the recording or mix.
Remember mastering is quality control and media prep more so than making a track sound nice by trying to fix mix errors. A track will sound great as a result of prepping the track for playback on any playback device. One of the tools that an established mastering engineer will have is a flat monitoring system. This includes the monitors and the room. (more on monitor and room another time). Mastering using a flat monitoring system can help you ensure a good translation. Referencing other commercially released music is another tool. But this tool takes time to utilize because you have to know what that material sounds like in your monitoring environment. This can take time and trial and error. Even in the best room this is required in order to calibrate your ears.
The best way to calibrate your ears for mastering is to make sure you are listening to released music that is well recorded, mixed and mastered in all genres. Make sure you are listening to this music in your studio, this is key. You need to know exactly how your monitoring system sounds and how it reacts to your room. the only way to know is constant listening. Walk around your room while listening , put music on as background as your working on something else like meta data or client paper work. This all sounds over simplified but the truth is a lot of engineers don't do this enough. When I started out I rarely did this, but once I started to constantly calibrate my ears I began to have much less guess work and my translations came natural. Try this out and truly get to know your monitoring system. Thanks friends, unit next time...